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Latest News - June 2011

June 23, 2011
UAW is a tough sell at southern plants
Hyundai, VW crews happy to be working

Source: Detroit Free Press
By: Tim Higgins and Keith Naughton

The UAW is trying to hold its first successful organizing drive at a foreign-car factory in the U.S. To succeed, the union has to convince people like Rocky Long.

"I don't see any problems here. I don't see how they could help me out," said Long, who's worked at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., for five years. Of the union representatives who came to his home this year, he said, "I really didn't give them the time of day."
UAW President Bob King has pledged to organize a foreign automaker this year to expand the union's bargaining power beyond the U.S. companies it has negotiated with for seven decades. Though Detroit is mostly retooling old plants, overseas car companies are building and expanding U.S. factories. The union is seeking to revive membership that declined 75% to 376,612 last year from its peak of 1.5 million.

Standing in his way are rising sales and added investments at Hyundai's Alabama complex and sites such as affiliate Kia's factory in Georgia. Already, King and his organizers are learning that workers at foreign-owned assembly plants, most of which are in the U.S. South, may not be easy to persuade.
"The UAW has to convince workers that they need a union when, in fact, without a union they got what they consider to be one of the best jobs they've ever had: a good manufacturing job with a company that's expanding," Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said in an interview.

Michele Martin, a UAW spokeswoman, didn't respond to requests for comment or to interview union supporters in Alabama. King hasn't said which automaker he's trying to organize.
Hyundai's lower wages and benefits have given it labor costs of about $44 to $48 an hour, compared with $52 an hour at Toyota's U.S. plants and about $58 an hour at the U.S. factories of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, according to Sean McAlinden, chief economist with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

Though Hyundai officials declined to speak about specific pay, workers said the hourly rate is generous for the area.

Montgomery's median household income in 2009 was $42,346, about $9,000 less than the national median and $6,400 less than in Michigan, according to the U.S. Census 2009 American Community Survey.

Wanda Carter, a Hyundai hourly worker, said she doesn't see a need for a union at the Alabama plant.
"Hyundai does the best they can do to work with the Hyundai employees," said Carter, who declined to give her age.

She wasn't alone. Workers at another potential UAW target, Volkswagen's new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., said they were excited just to have a job in the auto industry. There isn't any talk of forming a union, said Terry Young, a line worker.

"You don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth," said Young, 34.
The position is much safer than his previous job as a welder at construction sites, and the pay is "great" for the area, he said.

"This is one of the good jobs," Young said. "I love it."
King has said the union has set aside $60 million from its strike fund to organize the U.S. workers of an Asian or European automaker this year. He's said the campaign will aim to put public pressure on the companies and accuse them of violating workers' human rights if they try to block organizing efforts.



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